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Saturday, August 31, 2002
Rand Simberg is discussing the difference between agreeing with the result of a political or judicial decision and agreeing with the method used to arrive at that decision.

By my view, when the Supremes make a decision that I dislike, but is constitutionally correct, the appropriate response is not to be angry at them, and to start an impeachment drive, or to lobby my senators to put someone on the Court who will make decisions more compatible with my desires (i.e., to rig the process to give me the result I want), but rather, to amend the document whence the decision came.

Unfortunately, it's easier to play politics and bork judges than it is to amend the founding document, so that's what politicians do, and because the public rarely makes the distinction, they get away with it.

No argument here.

But in passing, he discusses the electoral college. He agrees with the concept, but wants to increase the “resolution” by assigning electors by congressional district (as they presently are in Maine and Nebraska) instead of by state (as they are in the other forty eight states).

There, I disagree.

In 2000, Al Gore instituted the first post election dispute in a presidential campaign in the history of our nation. Not even Nixon (in 1960) was stupid and/or selfish enough to do what Gore did. The Florida debacle was bad enough, and that only took about six weeks and about thirty trips to various courthouses. We are still feeling the effects of Gore's post election tantrum. Fortunately, a split between the popular vote and the electoral college results only seems to happen once every one hundred years or so. Imagine, if you will, the same nightmare re-re-recount scenario occurring in every close congressional district after literally every nationwide election. In a close election I don’t think we would have a president until the midterm elections rolled around. And, in terms of the popular vote, most modern presidential elections are quite close (a couple of percentage points difference). A difference of as much as eight or ten percent is considered a landslide.

Elections are human enterprises. We have to expect that they will not be perfect and that the participants will always attempt to “game” the system. There is absolutely nothing wrong with tailoring your campaign strategy to account for the effects of the electoral college. It exists for that very purpose. It was intended to force candidates to campaign outside the major population centers in order to win. It succeeds in accomplishing that purpose because candidates game the system by tailoring their campaigns to achieve victory in the electoral college.

On the other hand, since humans are involved, we should also expect some people to attempt to subvert the system. All we can do is make the system harder subvert and make it easier to discover and either prevent or correct the subversion. I think the electoral college achieves both of those objectives, to a greater degree under predominant the winner take all system and to a lesser degree under the district by district scheme now in effect in Maine and Nebraska and advocated by Mr. Simberg.

The primary effect of the electoral college is to force candidates to campaign outside of the main population centers of the nation. For more than two hundred years, it has performed as advertised. In addition, the electoral college completely eliminates the incentive to cheat in the state or states where the candidate is strongest. This is precisely where cheating would be easiest and least detectable, and therefore most likely. (Your guy is going to win there anyway and get all the state’s electoral votes. There is no need to cheat.) This would not be the case under the Maine-Nebraska scheme.

Finally, under the winner take all system, the ballot box stuffers in closer states must operate on a large scale to influence statewide results. This makes detection easier and therefore more likely. The same effect is not achieved under the Maine-Nebraska district by district scheme, since a series of districts could be swung with widely scattered efforts involving fewer fraudulent votes.

The Founders were proud of the electoral college. They had reason to be. It ain’t broke. Don’t fix it.
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